The great meeting place at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, is Panajachel, or as the locals call it “Pana.” She is the “big city” at an estimated 15,000 people. With her tourist trade, that base population can easily swell. I happen to be traveling here in the low season, so I don’t see too many tourists and only a few expats so far.
She looks so lovely from the mountain road leading down to her city edges, appearing nestled just at the lake’s lip. And much of her is quite pretty, with colorful streets and painted buildings and the lake with her three neighboring volcanos just off in the distance is so many spots at around town. The neighborhood streets off the tourist paths are not pretty, but neither are they ugly. They are simply functional.
Pana is very much a tourist town, but as per usual for me, I’m staying out of the way a bit in a small apartment with a kitchen, bath, cable TV and great Wi-Fi, living mostly with locals, which makes me very happy at $200 a month. I’m staying through until Dec. 1, so I’ve been taking my time exploring the rest of Lake Atitlan.
The tortilla lady and I greet each other with smiles. Maria, our resident housekeeper, is comfortable with me (the gringa who speaks little Spanish) now, often helping me to understand what she’s saying. I catch a tuk tuk for about $.40 to get to the Supermercado (supermarket) and anywhere else in town (which is always only 5 quetzals – the 40 cents – within the town limits.) I’ve been to the local Sunday marketplace twice now and although it’s too crowded for me, I’ll be back for the incredible prices. The first week I was pretty tentative but bought a bunch of produce for about $1 – tomatoes, onions, limes, avocados, green onions, two slices of watermelon and a small pineapple. This Sunday I went hog-wild and took two cloth bags, filling them up for 25 quetzals – $3.35!
The neighborhood streets off the tourist paths are not pretty, but neither are they ugly. They are simply functional. People don’t seem as desperately poor as I’ve seen in other countries, partly it seems because of agricultural resources – they have something to sell. They DO NOT like to have their pictures taken, so I must be bit sneaky by catch someone in a shot not aimed at them or skip it when I ask and they say no.
I have enjoyed walking down the city’s colorful main street – Calle Santander – finding an expat bookstore, the Porch (an expat hangout) and talking with a 5-year girl with a grin and personality to knock you over. Unfortunately, she wasn’t up for a photo.
Tomorrow I head off to visit one of the five villages around the Lake so you can expect a much shorter wait for the next post from Guatemala.